Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Letter from a Birmingham Jail 2

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I shared Letter from a Birmingham Jail last year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and could think of no better way to honor his legacy today. Letter from a Birmingham Jail is an open letter written by Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1963 after being imprisoned for coordinating and participating in nonviolent marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. One of the most powerful letters ever written, it is a response to the local white clergymen calling for “patience” and suggesting King should trust them to move the civil rights movement forward. This letter is far longer than a traditional blog post, but, not only could I not bring myself to pick and choose the words from it I felt you should read, I assure you it is worth your time in its entirety.

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

for the hope-stubborn

I guzzled my iced mostly-vanilla-creamer-coffee through a metal straw as we drove under the tropical tree canopy lining the streets that lead to the building where our church meets on Sunday morning. We were late, as usual, and in my mind I was debating whether a trip to the bathroom would be absolutely necessary before dropping my youngest off in her class.

I told my husband an idea I had for writing about hope, and stumbled upon the realization that my best writing happens on Sundays. I often sit in church, filing pages in my notebook with words indecipherable to most. Later that day or that week or that year, they join together into something that feels like truth.

Today – a Sunday – I’m home with a sick kiddo, drinking the same iced coffee concoction, watching Scooby Doo while our puppy snoozes on the couch beside me. I’m looking at my notebook, barely able to make out words I myself wrote just last week, and I realize, I need the same virtual fist bump I had sketched out for you.

Is it just me, or does the internet feel like an all out ASSAULT on the image of God right now?

Not long ago I read a definition of PTSD describing it as a result of “psychological assault.” That’s kinda how the internet feels doesn’t it? Even for those of us who have never been sexually assaulted, who are not people of color, or undocumented immigrants, or muslim…

Oddly enough, this is where hope comes in. Hope is not void of reality; it’s the opposite of that. The hope-stubborn anthem is born from our broken world and broken hearts. It is written between tears and during lament. It stems not from inattentiveness but from paying close attention to the One who said in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.

If Jesus has overcome the world, I can hope. If he is both our origin and our destiny, as Pope Benedict said, we can hope. If Jesus said the gates of hell will not overcome his Church, then they won’t, no matter what it feels like down here on Earth. (or on the internet.)

I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed and discouraged. I read words from Christians who claim some lives matter more than others. Christians who are willing to get mouthy on the internet about black babies in their mother’s wombs but when those same babies end up in the school to prison pipeline, they become eerily silent. I read pure hate from people who claim to love the same Jesus I do, the one who came into our world a brown-skinned poor refugee – the same kind of person they want to deport or detain or shut out. I see my friends getting attacked for saying they fear for their (black and brown) children’s lives. They couldn’t possibly be accurate in interpreting their own narrative. They couldn’t possibly be correct about what it’s like to be a person of color in this country. Clearly, it’s not really that bad.

//

Outside my window, I watch as police officers chase the same teenager they chased last week and the week before. I wonder when his name will become a hashtag. Later, the great-grandmother on the corner sits on my couch and tell us her rent is going up $400 – about $400 more than she has. And CPS and a couple police cars show up across the street. They wanna talk to a single mother doing the best she can to get her kids to school and from where I sit peering out the window, it seems fear tactics are the only way we know how to do things these days.

These are the moments when the gates of Hell seem to BULGE. When darkness feels 42 weeks pregnant and the birth of evil inevitable. When overwhelmedness sets in and dismay clouds my vision. I am tempted to think I am alone. I am tempted to think the world has gone to crap. I forget there are more with us.

///

In 2 Kings there is a very real physical war underway. Both kingdoms are far from the Lord and lost in their sin. (Sound familiar?) During one battle, the king of Aram orders his army to surround the people of Israel so he can capture the prophet Elisha, who is ruining all his plans. Aram’s men go in under the cloak of night and surround the Israelites.

behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he (Elisha) answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  2 Kings 6:15b – 17

Matthew Henry’s commentary on 2 Kings says, “The opening of our eyes will be the silencing of our fears. In the dark we are most apt to be frightened. The clearer sight we have of the sovereignty and power of heaven the less we shall fear the calamities of this earth.”

THAT is where our hope comes from. It comes from opening our eyes in the direction of Heaven. It comes from believing there are more of us, on Earth and in Heaven, living into the reality of Isaiah 58 than there are spewing hatred on the internet. There are more of us pushing back darkness and drawing swords of the Spirit on behalf of the oppressed. There are more of us breaking chains and guarding the fatherless with our shields of faith. There are more of us letting the Light shine through our broken places.

There are more of us.

“Fear not with that fear which has torment and amazement, for those that are with us, to protect us, are more than those that are against us, to destroy us—angels unspeakably more numerous—God infinitely more powerful.” – Matthew Henry’s Commentary on 2 Kings

We can be stubborn about hope friends. Not because we’re not paying attention, but exactly because we are.

housing for all

housing_for_all

I attend a monthly community meeting. It use to be in a fancy building with glass walls with a clear view of new playground equipment and fake grass. The other half of the building is an upscale restaurant. The waiters wear all black as they serve people sitting at little round tables lining the sidewalk.

The first time I attended this particular meeting last spring, the council discussed a new ordinance preventing coconut trees from being planted near sidewalks. A coconut could fall on someone, you see. They can be dangerous. Some people sitting behind me in the glass room were not happy about this, they wanted to know if coconut trees already planted near their sidewalks would need to be removed.

That same week, there was a drive by on my street. The kids who live here couldn’t play outside because a bullet might land on them.

I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.

There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.

Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.

A thing you should know about my neighborhood is: it is HIGHLY segregated. As in, a segregation wall still stands. It divides those the world labels the “haves” and the “have nots.” It divides socio-economically, racially, and in just about every other way you can imagine.

The people concerned about coconuts falling on their heads don’t have to worry about bullets.

Another thing you should know is: there is a housing crisis on this side of the wall. My neighbors will tell you there has been for some time, decades even. Developers buy up singe family homes and apartments – some in disrepair, some not – level them, and sit on the land. The vacant lots are referred to as “fields.” Many of them have been sitting empty for a dozen years. There are several on every street.

field

Currently, landlords are selling their apartment buildings by the block. They refuse to sign leases with their tenants so when the buildings sell, they evict with 15 days notice. Another common practice is to let the buildings run down to unsafe and uninhabitable, at which point the city steps in and condemns them, forcing the tenants to move out with little-to-no warning.

I am doubtful of my ability to communicate the severity of this situation to you in mere black and white, letters on a screen. You, Dear Reader, are likely unable to comprehend the fear and helplessness an eviction notice carries. That’s because 73% of white folks own a home, compared to 45% of black folks. Statistics do not exist for my neighborhood, but I need to look no further than my own block to know hundreds of people are living in buildings being sold right out from under them.

I cannot fully comprehend it either.

The housing crisis is not just that developers are sitting on empty lots OR that people are facing imminent homelessness and displacement with just a few weeks notice; the situation is exacerbated because there is literally no where for people to go. For every 100 extremely low-income renters in Miami, there are only 33 affordable units available.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.”

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

Last month at the community meeting we didn’t talk about coconuts. We talked about housing. I would say the issue has finally reached a tipping point, but I suspect the conversation has ebbed and flowed over the years. I suspect those on the other side of the wall have always pushed down the voices of those on this side. I suppose, when men and women, grandmothers and mothers, fathers and sons asked those behind the microphones to do something, they have always been told to “wait.” But really, I don’t just suspect it, it’s fact.

The council responded to my neighbors who came to the meeting with lots of words. As I sat there in my seat I struggled to understand them. There was talk about zoning, and incentives for developers. FEMA and a special housing summit. The housing summit will happen at the end of January, they said.

I left the meeting in tears. I could not sleep. I said a lot of cuss words. I could not get the words of Martin Luther King, Jr out of my mind. I prayed. The problem with this paragraph is every single sentence begins with I.

but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

That was two weeks ago. Since then, the Lord gave one of our neighbors and mentors an idea, a method of direct action that involves setting up camp on these pieces of land. A prophetic act of protest against displacement and for the beauty of community when all are invited in. Starting today, we will physically stand alongside our neighbors as together we demand Housing for All.

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We have been meeting for months about the housing crisis, discussing which neighbors had been given eviction notices that week, wondering where they would go… I don’t think any of us really knew what could be done. There are so many powerful people playing this game of displacement. The city and county seem to be complacent at best and complicit at worst.

But we know we cannot sit idly by while our neighbors are treated unjustly, displaced at alarming rates, and the oldest neighborhood in Miami (some historians say all of Florida) becomes extinct. We cannot do nothing while the “haves” tell the “have nots” yet again, to wait.

The Lord has brought together attorneys, activists, government officials, neighbors, and police officers as we have planned in the last couple weeks. We are grateful and humbled our neighbors trust us to stand alongside them in their efforts to seek Housing for All.

There are several ways you can get involved and stand with us from afar:

FIRST, you can pray. As there will be protestors on the lots 24/7, we want to cover them in prayer 24/7. You can sign up to pray here.

SECOND, you can donate. We are in ongoing need of supplies such as fliers, signs, tents, water, snacks, etc. to make this happen well. You can give to our CRM Grove Team Fund here or through GoFundMe here. (Giving via CRM is tax-deductible, giving via GoFundMe is not but gets the funds to our team quicker.)

THIRD, you can spread the word on social media. Please follow and share on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The power of social media could allow our campaign to gain national media coverage with the help of people like you!

LASTLY, you can buy a Housing for All t-shirt! These are unisex small – XL shirts. $20 + $7 shipping. To purchase a shirt, please Paypal your money, size(s) and address to wallacemastiff@yahoo.com.

Please be praying for our neighbors. Some are ready to fight for their right to safe housing, and some are very very tired. As we have been researching the unjust housing practices in our neighborhood, we are deeply saddened for the way they have been treated for the last 100 years. Pray for God to move on their behalf, to make his love for them known, and for us to affirm the dignity he has placed in each of them.

[The quotes in this post are from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham jail. The letter is King’s response to the white clergy who call on him to “wait,” suggesting King should trust them to move the civil rights movement forward. You can read it in it’s entirety here.]

for the angsty one

For the Angsty One

Somewhere between Philando Castile and the shooting of an unarmed therapist lying on the ground with his hands up, I grew angsty. I used the word “despair” when discussing the state of our country. I was frustrated and lost. I laid in bed at night unable to sleep. I started emailing friends my own stupid white people questions. I desperately wanted to know what to “do.”

In the past, I have followed the guidance given me by people of color. The marching orders go something like this:

Step One: Sit down and listen.
Step Two: Educate yourself, yourself.
Step Three: Diversify your social circles.
Step Four: Acknowledge your own implicit bias and talk to other white people about racism, systemic injustice, mass incarceration, redlining, etc.

I fear this paragraph coming off as self-congratulatory. I have not arrived, but I have taken these steps seriously. I listen and attempt to educate myself, myself. I have friends of color, I live in an all black neighborhood – I see racial injustice every day. I acknowledge my implicit bias and family members have blocked me on Facebook for saying #blacklivesmatter… and yet, it does not feel like enough. Because it’s not.

The reason it’s not enough is partly because it’s actually just not enough, and partly because it’s not about me.

As it turns out, my desire to “fix” it (fix racism? systemic injustice? hundreds of years of oppression?) is central to my own privilege. I unknowingly made the “fixing” about me, and – NEWSFLASH – it’s not about me. At all.

In case you’re not seeing it – because, you know, privilege – the privilege I’m referring to is exactly what makes me think I can fix things to begin with. I’ve experienced hardship, but overall my position in society  – social networks, education, access to financial capital – has allowed me to bring forth changes when and where I’ve desired them. That’s privilege.

I got over myself and started asking God what my actual role is. I have one.  So do you. We all have a role to play in dismantling racial injustice at a macro-level AND at a micro-level. (Isaiah 58 anyone?)

And I have repeatedly found myself face-to-face with Jeremiah 29:1 – 7.
 
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

 

God tells the people to live their lives. “Do your thang! Build new houses and grow tomatoes and get some chickens! Get married and make more image bearers!  AND, seek the shalom of your city. Pray for your city and in it’s wholeness, you will find peace.

 

The Hebrew word for welfare is shalom. Shalom covers all aspects of peace and wholeness, manifested most clearly in times of persecution and trial. Lisa Sharon Harper, in her book The Very Good Gospel, says it like this;

 

“Shalom is the stuff of the Kingdom. It’s what the Kingdom of God looks like in context. It’s what citizenship in the Kingdom of God requires and what the Kingdom promises to those who choose God and God’s ways to peace.”

 

Practically speaking, what does this look like? This is where I get stuck. I’ve started and stopped writing this post several times. I want you to think me a credible source, but the truth is I don’t know. I’m still figuring out what it looks like for me – I sure as heck don’t know what it looks like for you.
But, us white church folk, we like formulas. Action steps. Meetings and checklists and committees and more meetings. But God says in Isaiah (58 again) he is sick of all our meetings. He says get out there and break chains.

 

I’m not a chain breaking expert; my God is. He is in the business of setting people free and for some crazy reason, his method is us. But here’s the thing – it’s messy. You’ll start and you’ll stop, jump on a bandwagon and fall off. You’ll make mistakes and say the wrong thing. You’ll make mistakes and say the wrong thing. Again. You’ll show up with answers and walk away with questions. Your heart will knit together with people you have but one thing in common – your humanity. And it will be the most glorious display of redemption and beauty you have ever experienced.

 

The list of injustices and wrongs to right is a mile long and we need not all be in the same lane. Maybe you heart bleeds for sex trafficking survivors or the homeless or addicted or mentally ill or the incarcerated or abandoned children or elderly or immigrants. They exist in your city. They do. And what you post about them on social media does not hold a candle to what you do or don’t do for them in your everyday life.

Are you pro-life? Great. What are you doing about that every day of the year that is not Election Day? Are you volunteering at a pregnancy crisis center? Are you resettling refugees? Are you a foster parent? Do you volunteer as a hospice worker? How are you not just being against abortion, but for the actual lives around you?

Do you know any public school teachers? Social workers? Principals? Judges? Who is the police commander overseeing your neighborhood? Who is your city council member? County commissioner? State representative? Do you know what they believe, how they conduct themselves, what their needs are?

For the Angsty One

I want a five step program, and I want to give one to you too. But that is not our God.

We muck all this up when oftentimes, I think it’s just really simple. Who around you is hurting? Who around you is oppressed? Who around you is being displaced? Who around you is dying in the streets? Who around you is neglected? Who around you is hungry? Who around you is homeless? Who around you is blind to injustice or oppression? Who around you is full of fear? Who around you is missing the fullness of Isaiah 58? Who around you is angsty and doesn’t know what to “do?” {raises hand}

Who?

Seek their welfare. Ask the Lord to break our chains. And together we will find peace.

implicit bias and the angry black woman narrative

For the past couple weeks I’ve been reading, A LOT. I’ve clicked every article shared by folks I admire and respect. One such article was written by a black woman to white people. She said we should stop talking to our white friends about their racism, and instead talk to them about our racism.

Good point, I thought. And moved on to the next article.

//

Sunday morning before church we attempted family pictures. I know, I know, small children and large families and Sunday mornings don’t mix, but it was the only chance we had with one of our favorite photographers while in town, so we went for it.

We sat in front of a mural on the sidewalk of a busy street. Our friend/photographer stood in the road, and her assistant/husband stood a little further out, watching for cars, occasionally letting her know one was coming or waving at the cars who avoided her by getting into the far lane.

As I was sitting there on the sidewalk, uncomfortably contorting my legs so two squirmy girls could sit on my lap and one of the boys could smash the blood from my left foot, I saw a red car drive by at an above-the-speed-limit-speed. Our friend/assistant waved at them, and I saw someone in the car wave back. I wasn’t sure if the waves were friendly or hostile gestures, and didn’t care much, until I noticed the red car reversing.

From about half a block away, on a one way street, they were making their way back to our little Sunday morning photo session. As they approached, I could see three people in the car. It looked like a mom and her teenage children. They were black.

I immediately prepared myself for the worst. My mind went to a place in the future where the woman would yell at my friend for waving at her, assuming he was telling her to slow down. I imagined her commenting on our family, saying something about how we don’t have any right to raise black kids. I thought she might tell us we don’t know what we’re doing and aren’t qualified. I imagined my husband trying to calm her down while I distracted the kids from curse words and screaming.

Do you know what she said?

“I just want to tell y’all that looks beautiful! That just looks so good! Is that your family? Y’all are a beautiful family. What a beautiful family!”

Even now, I cannot type those words without tears filling my eyes.

bias2

The narrative I expected to play out was the “angry black woman” narrative. You probably know the one. A black woman gets angry and screams and cusses at everyone within earshot. Turns out, the “angry black woman” narrative dates back to the early 1800’s.

I didn’t know I held that belief about black women until I was sitting there on the sidewalk holding a future black woman.

That narrative was subconsciously hanging around in my mind, waiting to ambush me the moment I saw that red car reverse. And by the way, no black woman has ever spoken any of those words to me. Ever. 

bias1

This my friends, is implicit bias. It is racism at it’s smoothest. It is the undercurrent of our society, writing the narrative we hear in our heads when someone who doesn’t look like us approaches on the sidewalk or appears on the screen. And our screens are a HUGE part of the problem – see video clip below. It happens to all of us. All. the. time.

We owe it to our brothers and sisters of color to actively fight against what our society has tells us about them. As Believers, we must crack open our Bibles to soak up what God says, hold it against the media and stand on the side of God’s Word and His people. 

None of us are exempt from implicit bias, even those of us raising children of color and living in all black neighborhoods, ahem. BUT the good news is, we can change the narrative that plays in our own minds. Not only can we, but we have a responsibility to do so.

I’m praying we are faithful.

 

 

 

(Wondering what your implicit bias is when it comes to dark skin tones verses light ones? This implicit bias test from Harvard can tell you.)

*Photos via Hayley Moss Photography

ask me your stupid white people questions

I’ve had a post rattling around in my head for several weeks now. Was it when I was diagnosed with PTSD? Or when I got addicted to started using Voxer?

I’m not sure, but the post I was writing in my mind was about making my world smaller. About my need to cut out all the noise. I was going to tell you how I unsubscribed from all the emails, because really, I can’t afford to shop those sales anyway. And how I unfollowed almost every brand on Instagram for the very same reason. How I scaled back my Facebook feed by unfollowing (while still remaining friends with!) pretty much everyone. I unsubscribed from blogs that don’t pertain to justice or homeschooling because that’s all the energy and heart space I have time for these days. How I cut back on podcasts. How I just needed less noise because the needs around me – in my neighborhood and in my own home – were enough.

Then Alton Sterling. Filando Castile. The Dallas Five. And there was so. much. noise. The world felt like it just might implode from it all.

And I took advantage of my white privilege.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 9.43.39 PM

I knew, as I typed those words, I was exercising white privilege. My friends of color cannot unfriend racial injustice – they live it in their everyday lives. As the mother of children of color and a white woman bearing witness to systemic injustice in my black neighborhood, I do too. The difference of course, is I can minimize it. I can choose to avoid folly on Facebook. I can unfriend and unfollow and block people whose hatred I don’t want to expose myself to.

That’s white privilege.

A day does not go by when I am not keenly aware of it. Of the fact that my voice gets more airplay then my neighbors, that because my family owns a vehicle, I’m “above” the other mothers on my block. For the love, I homeschool my kids. If homeschool doesn’t scream privilege, nothing does. I give many of my privileges up. But, I’m learning some are so inherent I cannot put them down no matter how hard I try.

I can’t change the color of my skin. Many days I wish I could. Many days I feel uncomfortable in my own skin. But that’s another post for another day.

//

I’ve thought a lot in the last week about how I’ve exercised my privilege online. And how I’ve added to the noise. I’ve thought about what can be “done” to unearth the systemic injustice in our country that runs so deep it infiltrates the very land we walk on. I’ve watched as white friends ask over and over what they can “do.” It often feels to me like nothing and everything can be done all at once, but this is what I can do:

I will continue to call out racial injustice for what it is (sin) as I see it, when I see it.
I will continue to love my neighbors and friends of color, both in person and online.
I will continue to listen when people of color share their stories and experiences with me.
I will continue to affirm them by declaring #blacklivesmatter.
I will continue to educate myself on the history of our nation and racial injustices around the world.
I will continue to teach my children about the imago Dei and the inherent value in every single human being because all were made in the image of God.
I will continue to seek justice in the daily lives of my neighbors.
I will continue to be with and not just for my friends of color.

But you know what else?

I will continue to ask stupid questions.
I will continue to piss people off.
I will continue to feel ostracized by both the white and black communities.
I will continue to be misunderstood.
I will continue to feel alone (at times).
I will continue to be called names which shall not be repeated here.

As phrases like “white ally” and “racial reconciliation” float around the blogosphere, I have to admit, I have yet to find an online space where white people can ask stupid questions.

I want to be a safe place for white people to ask stupid questions.

Ask me all your stupid white people questions.

Let me be really clear: I am not an expert on all things color or race or injustice. I am not a historical expert or expert of anything. But I’ve asked stupid questions – lots of them – and I’ve listened and I have been and continue to learn. I’ve seen racial injustice first hand. I’ve seen The New Jim Crow come to life in my neighborhood and I desperately want white people to join the fight against it. I don’t want to watch video after video on Facebook where my friends of color ask where white people are. I don’t want to read the heartbreaking words from my sisters who feel like we white folks don’t care about them. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow to another person’s name becoming a hashtag.

I know this small act won’t change the world, but I do believe it’s a prophetic demonstration. I do believe in being stubborn about hope. I do believe, no matter how dark the world is, that the Kingdom can actually come and God’s plan to bring it through His people is still being worked out. I am going to resist a hostile world which says justice and love and mercy and unity can’t be possible, that hoping and working for a better world because of Jesus is foolishness. I’m going to be stubborn about Love.

So ask me your stupid white people questions. I might not know the answer, I’ll probably send you some homework, and it’s likely I’ll quote the Bible. But I won’t judge you (at least not too much) and I genuinely want to come alongside you. My email is lindsy.wallace@gmail.com.

I would prefer you email me so we can have some back and forth dialogue where you feel free to ask your questions. You can leave your questions in the comments, although I can’t guarantee someone won’t leave a snarky response because, THE INTERNET, but I promise to delete any hateful remarks.

Be stubborn about Love today Friends.

Summer Reads

Today is the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere, which means most of you are now feeling the heat we’ve been feeling down here since, oh, last summer. As temperatures and humidity rise, I hope your schedule is slowing down. We’re preparing to spend a few weeks visiting family and friends up north and these are the books I’m packing in my bag.

(I’ve already read Follow Me to Freedom, and am halfway through a few others, but no, I likely won’t make it through all of these. I just like to have choices.)

Follow Me to Freedom, Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins
This book is a must read for anyone wanting to lead others to Freedom.

As some point, especially as Christians, we say with Paul, ‘To live is Christ, to die is gain…’ If we die, so what? We believe in resurrection. We’ll dance on injustice till they kill us… Then we’ll dance on streets of gold. Many Christians live in such fear that it’s as if they don’t really, I mean really, believe in resurrection. – Shane Claiborne

Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
I gotta be honest, I can’t get into Brene’s writing. I love her quotables, I love her in soundbites, I love her interviews, but her books are not my jam. I’ve skimmed the first six chapters and just can’t, so I’m gonna try to go deep on Chapter 7, Wholehearted Parenting and call it a day.

Turn My Mourning into Dancing, Henri Nouwen
“Solace without platitudes,” I am about halfway through this and really enjoying it. This book has been on our shelves for years and this is my first time cracking it open. As ironic as it sounds, I am thoroughly enjoying this book.

Evangelical ≠ Republican… or Democrat, Lisa Sharon Harper
This is the book I currently cannot put down. Since meeting Lisa earlier this month and having the true pleasure of hearing her speak, I have been tracking down everything she has written and taught. The list is long and this just happened to be the first book that arrived from the library. This book was published in 2008, but incredibly relevant to 2016. I am fascinated by the history of evangelicalism she shares in this book. (I’m looking forward to adding her newest book, The Very Good Gospel, to my early fall reading list.)

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”, Beverly Daniel Tatum, PH.DBeverly Tatum seeks to answer the question, “Is this (cafeteria) self-segregation a problem we should try to fix, or a coping strategy we should support? Using real-life examples and the latest research, Tatum presents strong evidence that straight talk about our racial identities-whatever they may be-is essential if we are serious about facilitating communication across racial and ethnic divides. We have waited far too long to begin our conversations about race. This remarkable book, infused with great wisdom and humanity, has already helped hundreds of thousands of readers figure out where to start.”

“Jesus for President”, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
Because #electionprobs.

The Whole Brain Child, Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.
This is another that has been on our bookshelf for a couple years. I have a hard time with parenting books. I’ve read a LOT of them over the years, and most seem either completely unrealistic or too much rainbows and unicorns. The Whole Brain Child is one I continually hear recommended and summer seems like a good time to give it a try.

Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman
This book has been referenced in about a dozen other books I’ve read in the last year and is credited with “shaping the civil rights movement and changing our nation’s history forever” so definitely a summer read.

Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott
I might not make it to this one, but I figure it would be nice to throw it in for a few laughs.

Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen
I started reading this one last fall because I was disappointed in our home school curriculum’s telling of American history and the lack of representation and acknowledgement of people of color in the timeline of American history at all. At the time, I read along with what our curriculum was teaching to ensure I was passing on truth to my kids. I hope to read it from cover to cover this summer. This is another fascinating book I’m thankful to have come across. I was completely uninterested in American history in high school. Now I know why. (HINT: It was a whitewashed lie.)

What are you reading this summer? Let me know in the comments! 

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Letter from a Birmingham Jail 2

Image via CNN

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is an open letter written by Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1963 after being imprisoned for coordinating and participating in nonviolent marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation in Birmingham. One of the most powerful letters ever written, it is a response to the local white clergymen calling for “patience” and suggesting King should trust them to move the civil rights movement forward. This letter is far longer than a traditional blog post, but, not only could I not bring myself to pick and choose the words from it I felt you should read, I assure you it is worth your time in its entirety.

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

2015 Top Ten

[If you read along often, I’d be so grateful if you’d spare five minutes (or less) to take my first ever reader survey! And since prizes are fun, one of you who completes the survey will win a copy of Just Mercy, one of my favorite books from 2015! Survey open until NYE at midnight.]

I don’t often look at my blog stats. I just don’t find them terribly helpful. I know that’s not the “right” way to build a platform but, whatever man, that’s not really my goal here.

It was interesting (and a bit surprising!) to take a look at my top ten posts from the last year. I love that three of the top ten are from guest writers and two of the ten are from my Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say series.

At the beginning of 2015, I shared what I intended to write about this year and, as it turns out, I actually wrote about half of those things. The Lord laid other topics on my heart and those turned out to be some of my most popular posts.

Funny how that happens.

2015 Top Ten

Thank you for showing up here and sharing your stories with me. It’s an honor to have you reading my words and a privilege I don’t take lightly.

Speaking of privilege…


1. My White Privilege

I have no idea what my brothers and sisters of color endured for hundreds of years. I have no idea the atrocities my ancestors committed against them. I have no idea the history of African-Americans and the weight of oppression they have been forced to operate under because I didn’t have to know it. I have been able to live 34 years of life without having any idea of it.


 2. Adoption is Good, But It’s Not Best

Kids from hard places join families because of tragedy. It is a tragedy that they need a “new” family. And I never ever for a single millisecond want our kids to think that their deep deep deep loss is our gain.

I want them to know my heart breaks for them, that if I could have written the ending to their story, it would not have ended with us. That might make you squirm, but I can tell you that’s not how they would have written the ending either.


 3. Dear Foster and Adoptive Mamas:
Let’s Take a Real Rest

Jesus was misunderstood because of the way he and his disciples did life.

Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus is teaching his disciples in a counter-cultural way. They aren’t fasting when others are fasting, they aren’t praying like others are praying, they are different and weird and other religious teachers are watching the way Jesus raises up his disciples and they. don’t. get. it. He’s misunderstood and they question him. Can you relate?

“So, you don’t spank them? Have you tried spanking them?”
“Oh, so they sleep in bed with you?”
“He can have just one more cookie right? It’s just a little sugar.”
“You can leave her in childcare. Won’t she be fine? She knows you’re coming back doesn’t she?”
“Is he still having nightmares? ALL kids have nightmares. That’s normal.”
“You talk to their birth mom? Aren’t you afraid she’ll try to come get them?”

Jesus KNOWS what this feels like friends.


4. Your foster care fears are real.
Do it anyway.

And yes, after you work to love them, you might love them too much. But you know what? It’s not about you. And those kids you are so afraid of loving too much, well, they’re dying inside for someone to love them like that. And then you might lose them too soon. To a clean-for-the-moment birth parent… or a long-lost relative… or the system…

Or, you might see redemption and healing and beauty from ashes right before your eyes. You might see that the people sitting across from you in family court need Jesus just as much as you do and you need Him just as much as they do. You might be witness to the redefining of family and count yourself one of them. 

Or they might become yours. But that’s messy too.


5. God have mercy on ISIS.

Do you see that prayer is not a last resort or second-rate battleground?! Prayer is not for those who are too far away to do SomeThing, prayer is the thing. 

We have the power to push back darkness. Prayer is more powerful than dropping a bomb or drawing a gun – because it sets people free. 


6. I Was Wrong About Foster Care

The day before our boys came to live with us I attended Created for Care, a retreat/conference for adoptive moms. I was speaking with a woman whose family had been praying about starting the journey of adopting from Ethiopia. She asked me a question I could tell had been on her mind for some time. She asked me how I answer people who want to know why we are adopting from Africa and not “here”. Here being in the US.
I gave my wise Christian answer [SARCASM] “We prayed about it and feel like God has our children in Africa…” and then I told her the need is greater there. Kids in the US have roofs over their heads, clothes on their backs and food in their tummies. Their parents are not dying of AIDS at alarming rates and they are not dying themselves of dirty water. Simple. The need is greater. I. Spoke. Those. Words.
Friends, I was wrong.
Hear me. I. WAS. WRONG.

7. Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: All Lives Matter

But as a Christian, the fact that our country is based on the foundation that some lives matter more than others is not one I can just let go or forget about or pretend does not exist.


8. Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: All That Matters is That It’s Healthy

But listen: it’s still not what I would choose. Because it is dang hard. The goodness of our lives doesn’t come from the fact that we’re blessed with desirable circumstances; it comes from living in relationship with a God who can transform anything into goodness, anything into beauty.


9. A Come to Jesus Meeting on 21st Century Racism from your “Black Friend”

And privilege does something to you. it makes you blind to systematic injustices all around you because you did not experience it. 

Privilege makes people racist.


10. Is That Really Helpful? Considerations for Aspiring Allies

Don’t ask a PoC to do your work for you. So, about those “Do you have any suggestions?” messages in your Black friend’s inbox…

Black folks have had suggestions for generations, many of which have fallen on deaf ears among even well-meaning White people. The struggle for equal rights predates all of us now, and at this time we’re neck-deep in scholarship, history, and narrative on the matter. Classes have been taught on this stuff since before I knew my ABCs. If you’ve missed the message, it’s your job to play catch-up.


Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: All Lives Matter

{the DISCLAIMER I didn’t think was necessary: I am specifically referring to using “All Lives Matter” as a rebuttal and combative response to a movement -” Black Lives Matter”- that requires and deserves attention and action rather than a silencing, all-encompassing and hollow catchphrase. Shout out to @shannon_boothman for articulating it so well.}

I’d be a terrible current events reporter. The Black Lives Matter movement has been around since 2013, and people have been responding with “All Lives Matter” since the beginning. Why write about it now? Well, because people keep saying it.

I don’t feel qualified – theologically, culturally, or academically – to write this post, but, D.H. Lawrence said, “Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.”

So here I am.

All_Lives_Matter

First, a brief history lesson.

#BlackLivesMatter began in 2013 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for his crime.

Alicia Garza, one of the founding women of the Black Lives Matter movement, describes it this way, “Black Lives Matter is a broad umbrella for social justice campaigns to eradicate poverty and unemployment, overhaul the public education and health care systems, reduce the prison population and end racial profiling.”

And, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Black Lives Matter has BLOWN UP.

In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, some white folks have responded with Well, All Lives Matter, and while this statement comes across as a unifying and honorable one, it’s actually quite the opposite. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Second, some current events:*

Even when income and credit risk are equal, African-Americans are up to 34% more likely to receive higher‐rate and subprime loans with a prepayment penalty than are their similarly situated white counterparts.

While African-Americans constitute 13.1% of the nation’s population, they make up nearly 40% of the prison population.

African-Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.

African-Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months).

in 2012, a black man was killed by a security officer every 28 hours.

These statistics, effectively say, “Black lives do not matter.”

Earlier this week the Ferguson Commission issued their final report stating; “What we are pointing out is that the data suggests, time and again, that our institutions and existing systems are not equal, and that this has racial repercussions,” the report continues. “Black people in the region feel those repercussions when it comes to law enforcement, the justice system, housing, health, education, and income.” (Emphasis mine.)

I could list statistics and facts and figures that outline the systemic racism in our country for. days. but instead, why don’t you go read The New Jim Crow and learn it for yourself?

If I weren’t a Jesus follower, and heck, even as one, it’s tempting to respond to “All Lives Matter”  with something like this…

Things Christians Probably SHouldn't Say: All Lives Matter

Or say, that’s just stupid, and move on.

But as a Christian, the fact that our country is based on the foundation that some lives matter more than others is not one I can just let go or forget about or pretend does not exist.

According to Paul, who wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else, we are to let our love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. We’re supposed to love one another with brotherly affection. (Romans 12:9-10) We can’t do that if we pretend the struggles and fears and experiences of our Brothers and Sisters do not exist.

What, on the surface, “All Lives Matter” attempts to communicate – that is, we all matter, we all have value, we are all of the same race, all human, all the same color on the inside – actually accomplishes the opposite. Instead of bringing ALL lives together, “All Lives Matter” is, in essence, attempting to erase the experience of the black community. In saying all lives matter, you are choosing to ignore the lives that are not being valued now.

Paul goes on to say we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Not argue with, not discredit, not silence, not ignore: rejoice and weep. In fact, Paul says these are the marks of a true Christian.

When any one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. As a whole, we’ve lost the art of weeping with others. We’ve become so uncomfortable with being uncomfortable, we don’t even know how to say, “I don’t get it, I’ve never lived it, but I will sit here with you and I will weep with you because you are my Family.” Maybe we’re unable to enter in, because we spend so much time avoiding pain and suffering, but as fellow heirs with Christ, that’s part of the deal. (Romans 8:17)

In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul speaks of the unity of the body of Christ.  “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Emphasis mine.)

Here’s the question rolling around in my head:

Is “All Lives Matter” a unifying statement?

Friends, unity is not everyone looking and acting the same, unity is pouring ourselves out for one another in Acts of Love. Unity is living like Jesus, loving like Jesus, and serving like Jesus – because unity is a product of Jesus’ work on the cross. There is unity to be found, on earth as it is in heaven, but it will not be found in erasing, ignoring, or demeaning the experiences of others.

We all came to the Good News the same way – regardless of our age, sex, color, economic status – our belonging in the family of God was blood-bought and we have a Kingdom-Ushering responsibility to do more than side-step the reality of our Brothers and Sisters because locking arms with them is too hard or too risky or too far outside our comfort zones.

Do all lives matter? Of course they do, but that reality is not playing out in our world. In the face of superficial unity, we need to let our love be genuine and hold fast to what is good. We need to declare Black Lives Matter.

How are you bearing with your Brothers and Sisters of color? Are you weeping with those who weep? [A simple first step may be to push back when you read or hear someone declare All Lives Matter.] 

*Stats can be found here and here.

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September R E A D S

A funny thing happens when you give up social media for a month, you have time to read words actually worth reading. And, you begin craving substance instead of empty calories.

september_reads

These are the five books on my bedside table this month:

I haven’t started United by Trillia Newbell yet but I am looking forward to exploring the topic of “reflecting the beauty of the last day this day” with a female author of color. With this book, Trillia begs the question “…our churches remain separate but equal. In a time of great progress, why does the church remain relatively unmoved?” #inquiringmindswanttoknow

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin was referenced in The New Jim Crow, and was the title of the book’s last paragraph. I haven’t started it yet but, according to Amazon, “It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.” The New York Times described it as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose.” #sold

I mentioned Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott last month. If you enjoy writing or reading or honesty or humor or words, then you should read it. If you don’t enjoy those things, Why are you here? See, you should read it.

Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle has been on my To Read list for a long, long time. Thanks to this online bookclub, I finally bumped it to the top, and am left wondering “Dog, what the hell took you so long to read this damn book?” There’s something about a Catholic Priest who cusses like a gangbanger and loves them like his sons that leaves my heart smiling. This book paints a beautiful picture tags breathtaking graffiti, of what it looks like to be the hands and feet of Jesus among the hurting and the lost. Father Greg’s stories are poetry mixed with expletives. He explores the humanness of shame and compassion and community in a unique and profound way. It’s a MUST read friends.

I emailed my seminary friend a couple weeks ago asking for a book that explores theological and biblical history on race, what reconciliation looked like in the bible, etc., etc. His response was: I’m not sure such a book exists. But he did point me to One New Man by Jarvis Williams, which, according to Amazon, “aims to liberate individual Christians and churches from their bondage to racist ideologies, from a secular model of race relations, and from their disdain toward different races that arise from both the impact of their respective cultures and from the universal impact of sin.” Sign. Me. Up.

What are you reading this month? Have you read any of these? Are there other similar topics or authors I should check out? Share with me!

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Recap + Five Things I’m Learning + Resources

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Hi friends. Happy Friday! It’s been great to hear how helpful this week’s series on racial reconciliation has been for many of you!

Today is the last of our series and there’s no awesome guest poster, just little ol’ me. You guys, I am NOT an expert on race, or for that matter much of anything. But I love to share what God is teaching me, what I’m learning from others, and helpful resources. In this journey called life, I think it’s important to reach ahead to lock arms with someone farther ahead AND to reach back to lock arms with someone else we can bring along.

But first, a recap from this week’s posts:

Monday’s post, A Come to Jesus Meeting on 21st Century Racism from your “Black Friend”, from the beautiful Salem Afangideh. A few of my favorite quotes from Salem…

“Until we can be honest about the racism in our hearts we cannot begin to walk the path of racial reconciliation.” Ouch, right?

And her list of five signs you might be racist? Seriously laughing out loud. What were your thoughts?

If this thought from Salem makes you squirm, “We did not live in a culture that was systematically set up to make sure we stayed at the bottom of the ladder.” I suggest you add The New Jim Crow to your summer reading list.

What did you think of her description of 21st Century racism? Did you give yourself time to sit with it? Take a hard introspective look at your heart? If not, make some time for that.

Tuesday’s post, Action Items for New Allies, came from C. G. Brown. C. G. is a man of concise words that pack a powerful punch. He shared nine action items with us and “2-5. Seriously, believe them.” also had me laughing out loud. Have you ever thought about what it would be like to share your story (or even just a single life experience) with someone, only to have them completely invalidate your story or experience? Can you imagine this happening consistently?

And his #6 “It’s not your fault, and it’s not about you.” and explanation were humbling to say the least. Of course it’s not about us, but in our desire to help/come alongside/bridge build/etc., we can be over zealous and shell shocked when we realize the deep deep history of racism in our country. I know I struggle with responding to current events in a way that is respectful of the grieving that is taking place, entering into it myself, while also balancing my desire and personality type to “do something.” Anyone else?

Wednesday’s post, Four False and Good Starts to Racial Reconciliation, came from Sean M. Watkins. I kinda wanna make wallpaper out of this quote from Wednesday:

“Become “Not Racist” but “Antiracist.” It is not enough when someone says, “I am not racist.” We must become “antiracist.” We must become allergic to injustice and racism wherever it exists—in our hearts, our homes, our churches, our communities. Absence and silence end when we become advocates for those who have been long overlooked and dismissed. When the unheard see people who don’t look like them advocating for them—without having to ask for that advocacy—trust will be built in biblical proportions.”

I want to be allergic to injustice and racism wherever it exists! I want to build trust in biblical proportions! Yes and Amen. I love the hope that comes across in Sean’s words. Did you feel it too?

Thursday’s post, Is That Really Helpful? Considerations for Aspiring Allies, came from Denise Anderson. You guys, Denise BROUGHT IT. I wish we lived in the same city so I could be her real life friend. On some level, I am completely guilty of each of her behaviors to avoid.

After reading her post, I had to email her to apologize for my ignorance to Racial Battle Fatigue. This dance is awkward and stepping on toes is to be expected. But when it happens we can speak it out loud and ask for forgiveness.

“Contrary to what you may believe, you don’t need to engage with people of color to do the work of racial reconciliation. Why do I say that? Because there is more than enough work to be done among other White folks. It is perfectly appropriate — and even necessary — for White people to engage other White people in the work of racial justice.”

Denise was the first person say this to me and I think it takes some of the scary, intimidating pressure off. If you’re white, you know a lot of white people. And there is plenty of work to be done there. Start where you are. Don’t stay there, but start there.

Like I said, I think it’s helpful to share what we’re learning so others can learn to. In the spirit of sharing and learning, here are five things I’m learning:

1. History is important. And I don’t know it. So I’m taking responsibility for that by reading the books recommended to me and listening to podcasts like this one.

2. Online relationships do not replace being with in-the-flesh humans. They just don’t. Online relationships are incredible helpful. (I don’t actually know IRL any of my guest posters from this week.) But connections are made when we look into the eyes of another human. When we can hear the emotion in their voice and see the tension they carry in their shoulders. When we can reach out and touch each other. When we can cry tears together.

3. Listening and learning from one person/group of people does not negate the need to do so with another person/group of people. Meaning, just because I have been listening and learning from certain men and women in my life does not mean I can jump into conversations with other people of color without learning and listening from them first. You guys, I learned this one the hard way. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. Of course each person is an individual. Of course every person has their own story, their own hurts, their own wounds, their own feelings. And of course when I am new to a person/group of people they look at me and see white girl. Who likes to ask questions. When we enter into conversations without laying the groundwork for true relationship, both sides can be misunderstood and the conversation dies. Relationship is the foundation for bridge building. 

4. Not everyone is ready for this conversation. Some white people aren’t ready for this. Move on. Jesus was clear about shaking the dust off our feet and moving on to someone ready to listen. Some people of color aren’t ready for this. As I’ve been told, their pain is too deep, their grief to constant. They are tired. Rightly so. Find someone else to learn from. It’s ok.

5. Grace, grace, grace. I have offended. I have been offended. I have hurt feelings. My feelings have been hurt. I have misunderstood others and felt misunderstood. This is clunky and awkward. We must absorb in grace as much as we can and extend grace as far as it will go. (SPOILER ALERT: Grace never ends.)

Helpful Resources

I was first introduced to Latasha Morrison at the IF: Conference this year. You can view this video of the racial reconciliation round table that took place at IF.

Tasha’s blog can be found here. I also recommend this podcast interview she did with Jamie Ivey of the Happy Hour. I love Tasha because she is full of hope and grace and Jesus. She’s been a real encouragement to me. Go follow her on all the social medias.

Here’s the Perfect Explanation for Why White People Need to Stop Saying #AllLivesMatter

Salem shared this book list with us on Monday and I HIGHLY recommend you start checking those out from your library or hop on Amazon. Book club anyone?

Spend some time reading the #IfIDieInPoliceCustody posts on Twitter and Instagram.

And finally, this video from Evelyn from the Internets. It needs no introduction.

Has this series been helpful for you? What has it left you feeling and pondering? What stuck with you? What is your next step? How can we continue this conversation on the internet and in our real lives?  I wanna hear from you!

Is That Really Helpful? Considerations for Aspiring Allies

You guys, I’m not being dramatic when I say today’s guest post brought me to tears. There is so much truth, so much wisdom, so much grace, so much humility, and so much bold love.

Denise Anderson’s post “Allies,” the Time For Your Silence Has Expired is the reason I wrote about my white privilege and the spark behind this week’s series. When I asked Denise to contribute, I expected her to kindly decline. But she didn’t. And for that I am so, so grateful. Please read her words with an open heart + mind and share them far + wide. As she will conclude, racial reconciliation is holy work. Church, this is for us. 

[To re-cap here are Monday’s post, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s.]

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I’m honored that Lindsy reached out to me after reading a piece I wrote after the massacre at Emanuel AME Church. When she told me about this blog series and what she wanted to do, I had a ton of thoughts. Honestly, I feel I’m at a loss for what to tell White people to do because, well, I’m not White. But I do at least have some thoughts on what I find helpful from my White friends and colleagues in times of racial unrest — and what doesn’t help at all.

With that, I humbly submit some considerations for engagement and some behaviors to avoid for those who would become agents of reconciliation in a broken world.

Let us have a moment. Racial Battle Fatigue is a real thing. When you repeatedly are subjected to or witness incidents of racially-motivated violence, it chips away at your soul each and every time. An attempt to get us to engage — whether it’s expressing regret or asking our opinion on the latest killing of an unarmed Black person — can feel like an invasion. Sometimes we need to retreat to process our feelings. Sometimes we’re at a loss or need to talk ourselves out of snapping. Perhaps that’s not the time to tag us in all articles related to said incident on social media. Maybe post those things on your own timelines and express your own outrage. Maybe you don’t immediately hit us in our inbox and start asking, “What can I do? I feel so helpless. Do you have any suggestions?” No ma’am, and no sir; it is way too fresh.

Job’s friends came to sit shiva with him after he lost everything he had. However, things didn’t go further south until they started speaking. Practice the art of solidarity by shielding (as best as you can) your friends from intrusions upon their grief — specifically your own intrusions.

Don’t ask a PoC to do your work for you. So, about those “Do you have any suggestions?” messages in your Black friend’s inbox…

Black folks have had suggestions for generations, many of which have fallen on deaf ears among even well-meaning White people. The struggle for equal rights predates all of us now, and at this time we’re neck-deep in scholarship, history, and narrative on the matter. Classes have been taught on this stuff since before I knew my ABCs. If you’ve missed the message, it’s your job to play catch-up.

I’m surprised (and even disturbed) that most of the people who ask me this question have advanced degrees. These are folks who know how to do robust research (and are even better at Googling things). They know how to find syllabi from most any course offered at any college in recent years. Why not look up the syllabi of courses on racial justice, sociology of racism, liberation theology, etc? Why not look into the books listed on those syllabi? Why ask an already grieving person to leave their grief just give you a bibliography? Does that not seem at least somewhat insensitive?

Don’t police Black voices. And check other people who do.

It’s interesting to me that right now all the talk on Twitter is about this so-called “feud” between Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. Minaj made a critique about how the music industry ignores the contributions of Black women and Swift took offense to it and spoke out. No one was talking about (or to) Swift. She made Minaj’s experience/perspective about herself and her own feelings. This is, sadly, the experience of many people of color. We express our own truth and are met with the interjections of White people and their self-insertion into our narrative.

When we speak about our experiences, we’re often derided for our tone. We’re not saying things in a way that’s palatable for White sensibilities, so we’re dismissed as “angry”. Our people are dying, we call for change, and we’re met with, “Ask me nicely!” or “Maybe you’re mistaken.” That’s infuriating.

And please resist the temptation to “whitesplain” the world. I really don’t care about Jamal at your office who made partner despite being from “the ghetto.” I’m happy for him, but unless you’re also going to document how his climb was harder than yours, or explain the system that ensures his former community continues to subsist in poverty despite their best efforts, I assure you you’re not helping. (Bonus points if you can do all of that without making it seem like people of color are endemically lazy, violent, or unambitious.) Any would-be ally would do well to validate the anger and frustration of people of color, because these feelings are justified. And on a related note…

Don’t make this about you. So, about those “I feel helpless” messages in your Black friend’s inbox…

I don’t think White people understand how much space they take up sometimes. This is not about you right now. I know you want to express empathy when the hashtags and news stories start circulating, but when a mother has to bury her child and a community is forced to relive the horrors of its past, present, and, likely, its future, it’s not the time to focus on your own vulnerabilities. Your feelings are valid, but I think in those times there are more productive feelings to express, engage and channel — like righteous indignation, for instance. Focus on the feelings that get you motivated rather than paralyze you.

Seriously, just give us a moment. I want White people to have friendships with people of color, and not for the sake of having non-black friends, but to experience mutual love and respect that often leads to deeper understanding. But those friends can’t be sherpas for White allyhood; it’s asking too much of them, especially in times like these.

Contrary to what you may believe, you don’t need to engage with people of color to do the work of racial reconciliation. Why do I say that? Because there is more than enough work to be done among other White folks. It is perfectly appropriate — and even necessary — for White people to engage other White people in the work of racial justice. I’ve been referring people to Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which organizes White people for this work. They also curate ideas and action items for White people to consider doing in their own contexts. SURJ understands that reconciliation can only happen between those on the same footing. When you dismantle the systems that disproportionately oppress and subjugate some of us, then and only then can reconciliation take place.

For me, the word “reconciliation” has theological significance because it assumes something is being restored to its former state. Christians understand reconciliation as the restoration of the relationship between humans and God through the work of Jesus of Nazareth. We also understand that love of God and love of neighbor are inextricable, and it is impossible to love God without loving other humans. Racial reconciliation is, therefore, holy work. It is ministry itself. And if it is indeed ministry, that means that it’s not easy work, but it is work for which the Church has been empowered. May God light the path and the passion of those who would undertake it. Amen.

View More: http://whitneypointephotography.pass.us/deniseheadshots

 

Denise Anderson is a Presbyterian Church (USA) Teaching Elder and Pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church in Temple Hills, Maryland. She’s a proud graduate of Howard University School of Divinity, where she developed her interests in social justice, liberation theology, and feminist/womanist religious thought. Denise blogs at Soula Scriptura and is among the contributors to the RevGals book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).

Four False and Good Starts to Racial Reconciliation

This is the third in a weeklong series on race. If you missed them, head back to read A Come to Jesus Meeting on 21st Century Racism from your “Black Friend” from Monday and Action Items for New Allies from yesterday.

Today’s guest post comes from Sean M. Watkins. Sean grabbed my attention with his Do You Know What Your Pastor Will Say Tomorrow post in the wake of the #CharlestonShooting. I have enjoyed following his writing since and expect the same for you.

Bolt false starts in the men's 100 metres final at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu

Usain Bolt of Jamaica (R) makes a false start as Nesta Carter of Jamaica stays in the blocks in the men’s 100 metres final at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu August 28, 2011. Bolt false started and was disqualified from the world athletics championships 100 metres final on Sunday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

A false start is defined as “an unsuccessful attempt to begin something.” They can occur in a number of sports. A runner or swimmer starts too soon. False starts, however, are most commonly recognized from the game of football.

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When someone makes an illegal action (like this guy running full speed while the rest of team is standing still—epic fail), the entire team suffers and has to move backwards, increasing the distance they had from accomplishing their goal. False starts not only occur in the NFL, but also in the real world.

If the events of this year have taught us anything, it is that our country, and the church, have had a number of false starts when it comes to racial reconciliation. For the few places that are striving toward racial reconciliation—whether ministries, politicians, or businesses—events like in Charleston, McKinney, Ferguson, and Baltimore don’t simply reveal how much more work to do. They are litmus tests for how much true progress has been made, and if we are not careful, how much the little progress that has been made can be lost.

The truth is we are one people. The entire human race. We are one, with all of our differences, perspectives, hopes, fears, and dreams. Collectively, we are incredibly strong. Separated, we are frighteningly destructive. What happens to one—directly and indirectly—affects us all. I was confused why stock analysts were panicking about dollars in Greece at certain points during the last few years. Their economy has implications for our economy. If this is true from a material standpoint, how much more true is it from a spiritual one? We are one body, “made up of many parts” (1 Corinthians 12:12). Any injustice committed to any South Asian person directly and/or indirectly affects the Black community. When our Latino brothers and sisters suffer from systemic injustice, it affects Native American communities, the broad diaspora of White communities, and so on.

False starts with respect to racial reconciliation do not occur simply because one person commits a heinous act against one group. They also can occur when our responses do not promote healing for the hurts that are afflicted (i.e. your favorite athletes when referees make legitimately bad calls). Let me give four suggestions of false starts of racial reconciliation:

  1. Multiple Definitions. Many people use the words but very few have an agreed upon definition on what they legitimately mean. For the dominate culture—I would suggest any context where any group is in the dominate category (economically, politically, ethnically, etc.)—racial reconciliation means “open doors.” Those who were once excluded are now brought in. They have a “seat” at the table and their “voice” is allowed to be heard. For people in the sub-dominate group, it isn’t that simple. There is tremendous pain, wounds, and mistrust that has occurred for weeks, months, years, decades, even centuries. That will not go away overnight. Forgiveness must be requested and given, and trust has to be build. Additionally, many—not all—sub-dominate groups don’t simply want a seat at the table, they are looking for recovery of what was lost or taken away. (That’s not a call for reparations, as much as repairing the damage to communities that suffered systemic long-term damage from legal injustice.) In short, voice is given but without power to affect change. Any and all repairs needed to a community—whether economic, emotional, educational, etc.—lies primarily with the formerly oppressed or marginalized. In our country, generational burdens from segregation aren’t redistributed, just partially acknowledged. Starting with the present while never addressing the past—how this present was made possible—will cripple the conversation before it begins. I remarked to friend the other day who was commenting about the progress of the last 150 years since the Civil War ended. I responded, “If I walk a mile in 45 minutes, some would call that progress; but if I walk a mile in 45 years, I would have difficulty calling that progress.” If racial reconciliation means to some “I hear you,” and to someone else “Repent” or “Change,” we will have a lot of false starts.
  2. Multiple Voices. Eugene Robinson, in Disintegration, states 50 years ago “Black” in the U.S. meant the descendant of slaves. Today, “Black” has splintered into multiple groups: descendants of slaves (ranging in economic power from middle class to abject poverty), bi-racial people who have one Black parent in their DNA with another person of any other ethnic descent, 1st & 2nd generation African immigrants/families, and affluent Blacks that have enough money race isn’t a limitation (Oprah, Jay Z, Magic Johnson, etc.) Whose voice are we listening to when we engage dialogue about racial reconciliation? Depending on who you ask, you could get several different answers. If we are only listening to and looking to one group to speak for the broad diaspora of “Black,” there will be gaps. This is why Ferguson and Baltimore had peaceful and violent protests, CNN’s Don Lemon asked questions that infuriates many in the Black community, Fox News has Black commentators that support all of their views, and the list goes on. The community is splintered and if we have selective hearing, we can assume progress when there has been little made for if true progress had been made, our responses to national racial tragedies would not be as wide and varied. The same is true of the Asian Community. “Asian” in America means Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin speaking), Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Taiwanese, Indian (South Asian), etc. When it is said, “We are reaching/want to reach the Asian community,” to whom are we referring? We can easily assume progress, when in reality, it could be a false start.
  3. The Silence of Adam. Genesis gives the Creation Account for humanity. In Chapter 3, Adam and Eve eat a piece of fruit they aren’t supposed to and ruins the rest of the book! Historically, Eve gets all the blame, but the Bible does say, “She gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Gen. 3:6). Scripture records Eve’s conversation with the Serpent, but Adam who is present, is silent. It is chilling to consider he was present at one the most pivotal moments in human history, and he settled for being an eyewitness over engaging. Whatever hopes, aspirations, visions, sermons, tweets, Facebook posts, friends of any color we have, when silence is the only thing heard during times of racial tension, it dissolves any progress that may have been made. If people have limited cross-cultural experience, then much of what they receive about other people is from the news and media. If there is a continuous loop of white police shooting unarmed Black people, angry Black protesters screaming for justice, a 15 second loop of Mexicans crossing the border illegally into the United States, it will influence us—whether we believe it or not. When there are no positive examples to contribute to one-sided news reports (i.e. white pastors calling for justice, Black pastors calling for peaceful protests, Mexican families interpreting the hopes for those families, etc.), the narrative in most our minds is filled with what was said in the past…and the past has far more negative comments than good ones. (A catalyst for advocating for racial-reconciliation in my life occurred when many white leaders reached out to me and my friends to grieve terrible racially charged events on campus. It gave me a picture of what health can look like. I have been chasing it ever since.) It is saddening to watch friends have an endless sea of comments on LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, Tom Brady’s Deflategate, Avengers: Age of Ultron, favorite restaurants, and everything else we post but to hear or see nothing when it comes to issues of race and ethnicity. Silence is violence, not reconciliation, and it will always produce a false start.
  4. The Absence of Adam. In Genesis 4, when Cain kills Abel, Adam’s name is nowhere in the account. Only the two brothers and the mom are mentioned. The only other man on the planet is absent when his two sons fight to the death. Absence is similar to silence, but slightly different. Silence breaks cross-cultural trust, but absence means being not caring to the point of being oblivious. Granted, we don’t know what we don’t know. However, if we want to be committed to racial reconciliation, we cannot afford to be oblivious. I can never be oblivious. A non-Black person can get a Bachelors, a Masters, and PhD without ever having to encounter a Black person or their culture. The reverse, however, is that I as a Black man cannot get a GED without being exposed to white culture. I am never oblivious. If I can return to my comfort zone and reduce my awareness of events, true racial reconciliation will not occur, but a false start.

Let me give 4 practical steps to embracing true racial reconciliation. These will not solve all our problems, but they are steps in the right direction and ensure false starts will stop occurring.

  1. Come to Terms. In our organizations, on our leadership teams, and in our own hearts, we need to agree to what a true definition of racial reconciliation truly is. It will not be easy—some can’t agree on what’s for lunch—but it will be worth it. Ask your team: “How you do define these terms? How do we want to define them and live them out?”
    If I may suggest, if we are serious, whoever is “the least of these” should have the dominate voice in deciding on the definition. If a group has been historically unheard and doesn’t have power in conversations like this one, it is a guarantee that won’t feel heard or valued when that vision or definition is defined. We must also give each other time to discern what racial reconciliation means and what we are willing to commit to. At best, we will be in one accord. At worst, we may lose some people because they are looking for something more or different, but at least we will know.
  2. Get a Hearing Test. Whose voice is not being heard? Who is absent from the room? Who has a voice but not power to affect change? The health of our churches, our communities, and our country is not in a place where “voice” or influence is enough. To reduce the unheard solely to “influence” roles without power assumes they will suddenly be heard without any measure of accountability for the hearers. It must be coupled with power, whether temporary or permanent, to see legitimate change occur. Develop discernment to affirm who is being heard and to affirm those who are consistently overlooked and marginalized. (Side note, gender is monumental here, too. In and outside of ethnicity, we still struggle to hear women equally.)
  3. Become “Not Racist” but “Antiracist.” It is not enough when someone says, “I am not racist.” We must become “antiracist.” We must become allergic to injustice and racism wherever it exists—in our hearts, our homes, our churches, our communities. Absence and silence end when we become advocates for those who have been long overlooked and dismissed. When the unheard see people who don’t look like them advocating for them—without having to ask for that advocacy—trust will be built in biblical proportions. Challenge “those” conversations, actions, and attitudes. Ask questions. Seek to understand if injustice has occurred. Defend the cause of the overlooked and unheard. Don’t just cast it out of your heart, but your house and your neighborhood, too.
  4. Develop a Ministry of Presence. Henri Nouwen said, “It is not always about saying the right thing or doing the right thing, but simply being present can mean the world to someone.” Being present means listening to the hurting without correcting, presenting data to give hope, or any other means to recolonize someone’s thinking in the midst of grief. Sometimes people need space to grieve. 24 hours after the Charleston Shooting, news reports and leaders were calling for healing, progress, and gun control. The Black community needed—and still needs—space to mourn the continued history of racist attacks because of the color of our skin. Our community, especially the church, is high off of hope—not biblical hope. True hope comes from balancing lament and praise. Without proper space to process and mourn, true progress cannot be made. So sit with us and listen. Love. Learn. Lament. With us.

These are not answers, but hopefully steps in the right direction. There are no easy answers in the midst of difficult situations, but we must speak into them and walk through whatever valleys life throws our way. We will either move forward together or pass our lack of progress on to the next generation.

Let’s break the cycle and move forward.

No more false starts.

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seanSean M. Watkins is a Christian minister, trying to figure out how to follow Jesus and help others do the same. Sean’s goal is for people to remember Jesus, not him.
God has blessed Sean to see, believe and work to live out the Biblical vision of multi-ethnicity. Within that vision, Sean has a tremendous heart for Black people. He believes God put him on the earth to be an agent of change in the Black community, one life at a time. You can follow Sean on Twitter and on his blog. 

Action Items for New Allies

This is the second in a weeklong guest series on race. If you missed yesterday’s post, head here to read it.

Today’s post comes from C. G. Brown. I’m excited for you to read his words because, A. He’s brilliant & B. He’s a man and there’s far too much estrogen on the internet sometimes.

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First, thanks Lindsy for inviting me to share your space. The work of dismantling our country’s flawed views on race is hard, and requires many voices. I’m glad to have yours, and to have the opportunity to share mine.

I’d like to set a couple of ground rules before we begin. First, we will assume that “systemic racism” exists. By systemic racism I mean a framework that enforces rules and mores that benefit one racial group over another without any single individual being required to make a blatantly racist choice. For many, even this concession is a bridge too far, but I’ll talk a bit more about why this matters later. Second, I will use the terms “white people” and “black people” to refer to Americans who are of European immigrant descent and African slave descent (or people who look like either group) respectively. No capital letters, no conversation about the made-up-ness of the whole mess.

The past several years have given the lie to the belief that race is a problem that is behind us. We in America come from vastly different perspectives on the issue, but from the language used to describe people on opposite sides of a bullet to the opinions formed on sparse or false information, it’s obvious that we’re not seeing clearly.

A number of white people are interested in dismantling structures that keep us apart and promulgate injustice. As my friend Judy Wu Dominick has pointed out though, the revelation that systemic racism is a real thing can be a traumatic, identity challenging event for white people. That trauma can be so difficult to process it leaves those who awaken to it in a sort of “analysis paralysis”, liking friends’ Facebook posts or tweets, but unsure of how to act. If you’ll permit me, I’d like to suggest some action items for white people who want to do more, but don’t know where to begin.

  1. Believe what black people tell you about their experience.

Your friend that you went to college with. Your co-worker. Your fellow church attendee, if you attend one of the relatively rare multicultural churches out there. The more similar experience someone black has had to yours, the harder it may be for you to believe that they lived in a parallel world with challenges you never even contemplated. However, this belief is the cornerstone of coming to an understanding of how to respond to issues of race.

2-5. Seriously, believe them.

Your instinct will be to not believe. You’ll seek facts and figures to bolster your old view. You’ll tell them that they must have been imagining. If you’re particularly irritated, you might tell them they’ve been listening to too much Al Sharpton or liberal media. When you say that though, think about what you’re really saying.

You don’t know your own mind.
You’re making up an experience to feel like a victim so you can get special treatment.
You can’t come up with your own perspective, so you need the media to teach it to you.

How would you feel if someone said these things in response to some experience you had? So assume they’re telling the truth, at least their truth.

  1. It’s not your fault, and it’s not about you.

It’s important to separate your demographic experience from your personal experience. The trauma of recognizing systemic injustice arrives in two common forms: shame and resentment. Shame tells you that you’re an awful person and you should wallow in despair for the subconscious wrongs you’ve done. Resentment bristles you up and tells you that you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for the actions of others, especially people who died before you were born.

Both of these are wrong. It’s not your fault that racism exists, but it’s not about you either. Shamefully despairing over bad choices or hardening your heart in resentment makes the entire issue of the ongoing oppression of millions of people an issue of your personal feelings. Instead, take a learning posture. And if you’ve followed steps 1-5, people will have lots to tell you.

  1. Confront your friends when they say racist things.

I know this is hard because I think about how hard it is for me to confront my friends (or myself) about anti-gay or anti-woman comments. But letting racist comments slip by creates a climate of indifference that lets evil flourish.

Once you’ve had some practice reining your friends in, take on some big game; talk to your family when they say things. Of course, you can use some discretion here; there’s the old uncle who rants about everything and doesn’t listen, and he’s probably not worth your time. But your parents, siblings, cousins, and more receptive elders may benefit from some real talk.

  1. Seek to serve rather than to lead.

A significant number of aspects of our culture tell us that white voices are the most important and must be heard, even at the expense of black voices. We see this frequently in media. For instance, the movie Selma came under fire for not portraying a heroic LBJ, even though the president’s portrayal was consistent with history. People were infuriated that a Rue, a fictional character from The Hunger Games, was portrayed by a black person, because she was important and likable.

Where this plays out is when we have dialogue about how to proceed. Your instinct may be to  take your newly synthesized knowledge and take over the conversation, even going as far as educating the black people who don’t have the same conviction or who haven’t done as much research as you. Your voice does have a lot of weight, but direct that voice outward toward people who truly don’t understand. It’s tempting to see disenfranchised communities as in desperate need of guidance or assistance, but a helping hand doesn’t always come from on high. Sometimes, it’s just another laborer for the harvest.

  1. Recognize the intersectionality of the battle.

Each of us comes from a nexus of privileges and disadvantages that leaves us in a certain place on the playing field. Race is significant, all the more so because we refuse to deal with it in this country. But gender, sexuality, and class all feed into each other and into race as well. In some circles, a well-educated, well-off black person may be viewed as a more desirable friend than a poorly-educated, poor white person. However, racial biases may still add tension into that preferred friendship.

Understanding intersectionality will also help you get over the problems outlined in step 6. Many white people object to the notion of racial injustice because they say, “I grew up poor and I had to fight for everything I got!”  Through an intersectional lens, it’s possible to simultaneously recognize the privilege you experienced as white while recognizing the disadvantages you had growing up poor. This works in other directions as well; I realize that growing up with two loving parents in an all black middle class neighborhood gave me privileges people of various races with different adjectives before “parents” and “neighborhood” didn’t have. At the same time, when I walk down the street, people don’t see my upbringing or education first.

I hope that you find these thoughts useful as you take this burden you feel to pursue justice with humility and grace. You are most welcome in this fight.

cg

 

C. G. Brown is too lazy to keep a blog. But he does think a lot about current events, racial reconciliation, and technology. He makes a living by writing and helping people manage software. He makes a life with his wife, friends, and occasional musical instruments in Atlanta. You can follow his musings at http://www.facebook.com/cgbrown or occasionally on Twitter at @brokenbeatnik.

A Come to Jesus Meeting on 21st Century Racism from your “Black Friend”

Today is the first of a weeklong series of guest posts on race and what white people can do as racial reconciliation allies and bridge builders. If you have been reading and praying and learning and listening (online and offline) and are asking yourself “What now?”, then this series is for you!

I’ve reached out to a handful of friends and asked them to share their advice and guidance with us. I recognize it’s unfair and inaccurate to ask one person to speak for an entire group of people BUT I have a responsibility to steward my platform (however small) well and my attempt to do that is inviting friends of color to share their experiences with you Dear Reader.

Today’s guest post comes from Salem Afangideh. Her words are laugh out loud funny and grab your journal introspective. I know you’re going to enjoy her!

salem1

You know how everyone claims not to be racist because they have a black friend?! I am that black friend, so get comfortable and let me share with you a few thoughts that your solo black friend has running through her mind. The first 5 things I share with you may not necessarily be nice and comfortable, but until we can be honest about the racism in our hearts we cannot begin to walk the path of racial reconciliation.

On that note:

  1. If you have only one black friend (not including the inner city kids that make you feel better about yourself after serving them once a week) you are most likely racist.
  2. If you have more than one black friend but they are Africans, you are also most likely to be racist.
  3. If the only black people you have respect for are “black excellence” – the Obama’s, the black professionals, or black people in ministry. You are most likely racist.
  4. If you find your pronoun use in an “us” and “them” battle when talking about black people, you are also more likely to be racist.
  5. If your only knowledge of black history is limited to trans-Atlantic slavery and segregation, you are also most likely to be a 21st century racist.

Well, you are still reading – so i’m guessing you are not too deeply offended, but even if you are – sorry, not sorry.

See friends, I can go there because at some point in my life I have been that list.

I have been the person to say “well black people just need to move on from trans-atlantic slavery because it did not happen to them.” I said those words (in a safe space, to my family) and my mother helped me understand that (1). I was being racist. (2). It wasn’t that easy to move on from oppression when systematic injustice still existed.

A little back story; my family is from Africa so we are black, but have an entirely different culture from American black culture, and an entirely different history from black history. We are descendants of the Africans that were not sold into slavery. We have an entirely different world view. We don’t speak “ebonics.” We grew up in schools with people who looked like us. We saw black excellence. We did not live in a culture that was systematically set up to make sure we stayed at the bottom of the ladder. We did not have people stare at us when we walked into a store thinking we would steal things just because of our skin color. We did not have anyone thinking we were “thugs” even though I have some cousins that probably could have fit the description.

In many ways, i grew up with privilege and there is nothing I can do to change that. I am still very grateful for my childhood and half of my teenage years in Africa. In many ways I can relate with a lot of my “white friends” because I am not fully a part of American black culture. I am privileged.

And privilege does something to you. it makes you blind to systematic injustices all around you because you did not experience it. 

Privilege makes people racist.

21st century racism may not be as extreme as Dylan Roof who burned the black churches because he stated in his blog that white is the superior race and someone needed to be brave enough to destroy the savage races.

21st century racism is subtle.

It’s systematic.

It’s behind-the-scenes.

It’s automatically assuming that a young black girl with a kid is an unwed mother. 

It’s automatically assuming that the young black college student your daughter hangs out with is going to hurt her.

It is desperately wanting an integrated church but not having people of color on staff or on the leadership.

It is automatically seeing my 6’1 super-bulky, workout fanatic brother crossing the street and looking to see if your car doors are locked. 

It is seeing the black family on welfare at the grocery store and immediately getting upset.

Friends, I can go there, because I have been there. Praise the LORD I see things very differently now.

“I once was blind, but now i see” – Famous lines from the famous hymn Amazing Grace.

Did you know friends that John Newton, the lyricist behind the song Aamazing Agrace was of the beliefve that people of African descent were not humans?. He was completely blinded to the humanity of people who were just like him in every way except in their culture and their melanin content.

Until he met the LORD.

I believe strongly in my heart that the body of Christ is the key to racial reconciliation.

I believe that there is a lot of work to be done, so lets get moving!!

Here are three suggestions that worked to heal the racism in my own heart, and opened my eyes to the continuing effects of slavery in black culture and to the sickening systematic racism in the culture today.

  1. Get educated. Get some books about race and culture written by black voices. I have a list to help you get started
  2. Be inclusive in your spaces. Invite that black family in and get to know them on a real level. Maybe even have these hard conversations with them. Ask them about their experiences. Tell them you want to share yours. No more superficial relationships.
  3. Put yourself in black spaces: Go visit a black church. Watch a black movie. Get to know black culture intentionally, and not as a “missionary” to change or “fix” black culture – but as a friend with curiosity and humility.

There will always be a divide in culture and the good news is you don’t have to be a Rachel Dolezal and completely change your race to fight for racial reconciliation.

I am still African.
I will never be talented enough to speak ebonics.
I do not do fried chicken
I worship better to Hillsong thant Gospel music, and
I am not the biggest Beyonce fan.

But there has been a growth in the past 4 years in understanding culture, policies, and being an advocate for issues that transcend race and culture. So here is a promise from your black friend; as long as you are willing, there will be a growth in you too.

In your growth, you will no longer be blinded to the humanity of people with a different amount of melanin than you. In your growth, your family, your neighbours, your church, your children, and the law will be impacted and the natural overflow of YOUR growth will be racial reconciliation.

 

salem2

 

Salem Afangideh is a creative stuck in the intellectual brain of a lawyer. She lives to love God deeply and to love others well, while sprinkling light and hope everywhere she goes. She is a dessert-first kinda girl that loves to adventure, laugh, teach yoga, talk about the hard things, and do life big. 

 

 

You can find her blogging on The Warrior Princess Blog, or on instagram as afro_princess.

My White Privilege

I’m not afraid of talking about race but I didn’t really plan to write a post on the current events of our nation. Mostly because other, better, more educated writers have already done it. Writers of color have lamented through their keyboards in ways I can’t. White writers have shared facts I don’t know. So I wasn’t going to say anything here.

But this:

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Silence is not only not stewarding my influence and platform, however small, well, it’s also in essence saying it’s ok. Everything’s ok. Our country is ok. The American Church is ok. And it’s very much not ok.

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So I’m here. And I’ll screw up and say something wrong and piss someone off. I’m ok with that because this is a conversation I want to be part of. 

If you still believe what happened at AME Church in Charleston was not racially motivated, I cannot help you. If you think it was an isolated incident, I cannot help you. But, if you are ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty for the sake of pursuing racial reconciliation for the Glory of God, may I offer a suggestion:

Start with your own heart.

You might think that because I have a few black and biracial children, I don’t see color. You would be wrong. You may think that because my son will grow into a black man I have zero prejudice thoughts when I encounter one on the sidewalk, you would be wrong. You see, there is sin in my heart because I was born a sinner. And there is racial profiling happening in my mind because I was raised in America. 

When I interviewed my friend T.C. Taylor for this article on Race, the Gospel, Raising Black {+ White} Kids & the Imago Dei, he made a comment I haven’t been able to shake. He said white people got a “400 year head start” on people of color when it comes to education, jobs, equality, culture, etc.

Here’s the work I need to do in my own heart: I don’t really even know what that means. I know there was slavery and the civil war and Martin Luther King, Jr… but that’s about it.

I have no idea what my brothers and sisters of color endured for hundreds of years. I have no idea the atrocities my ancestors committed against them. I have no idea the history of African-Americans and the weight of oppression they have been forced to operate under because I didn’t have to know it. I have been able to live 34 years of life without having any idea of it.

My life has never required me to learn it, let alone try to understand it. Beyond memorizing and regurgitating some facts for a history test back in junior high, the plight of African-Americans, the history of racism and the role my ancestors played have occupied no part of my brain.

The freedom not to notice our lack of knowledge about people of color is another privilege that is afforded only to white people.
– Francis Kendall, Understanding White Privilege 

I have gotten on just fine without knowing any of it. And that’s not ok.

(Let me be clear, I recognize I can never fully “understand” racism and the injustices that have taken place against African-Americans for hundreds of years because I did not experience them. I can take full responsibility for my apathy and ignorance. I can still get in the fight, however late I may be.)

I feel certain everyone reading these words can look at Dylan Roof with horror. Disgust. Judgement even. We have no category for that level of hatred.

But we won’t send our kids to “that school” or move to “that part of town”, because why? Because we hate people? No, probably not, but we perpetuate the idea that people who don’t look like us or dress like us or talk like us are inferior. And we pass those ideas and judgements onto our kids and racism continues.

There is a time for learning, a time for listening, but in the words of Denise Anderson, the time for silence is up friends.

At this point, I’m not interested in your listening. I think the danger in this listening posture is, while it seems like the mindful and conscientious thing to do, it can also be far too convenient. It’s a great way of doing nothing. For the sake of finding the right action, you take no action instead. – Denise Anderson, Soula Scriptura

Those words have straight up seared me since reading them over the weekend. So here I am, hoping they do the same for you.

I don’t know what the action is for you because I don’t know what’s in your heart. Maybe it’s speaking up the next time your co-worker makes a racist joke. Maybe it’s educating yourself on the history of this country. Maybe it’s joining conversations that make you uncomfortable. Maybe it’s asking your pastor why he didn’t mention the #CharlestonShooting from the pulpit yesterday. Maybe it’s unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of white privilege in your own life.

I do know this, I’m going to start with my own heart. I’m going to get in the fight, late, flawed and sinful, and refuse to be silent.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: “I’m/We’re/My kids are colorblind.”

I truly hope this short series on race has only begun or contributed to the conversations that will continue in your homes and communities and churches forever and ever amen. If you’re just joining us, you can read the first three posts (including two thought-provoking interviews) here and here and here.

As I said in the opening postI know very-little-to-nothing about race. Being the adoptive parent of children of color does not make me an expert. In fact, it provokes far more questions than I have answers for.

Before diving into this conversation, there was one thing I did know: the remark that “I’m/We’re/My kids are colorblind.” never set well with me. Now I know why.

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Before I share what I’ve learned these last few months, let me first say, this post is for all of us.

Unless you grew up on an island where all people are treated equally and live together in perfect harmony without judgement of sex or color or education or physical beauty or anything else, then this is for you.  (If you did grow up on such an island, please let me know, I’d like to visit.)

My focus is on God’s Word because I believe that’s where it should be, but logically, if you are colorblind how can you celebrate other cultures? Or for that matter, your own culture?

If you don’t see color, race or ethnicity, how can you delight in ways unfamiliar to you? How can you revel in the unique creativity with which we were all made? How can you enjoy the rich heritage of a foreign land if you don’t see it?

What I’m arguing is, you do see it, and when you say you don’t see color, what you really mean is, “I’m not racist.”

Not being racist is a good place to start, but it’s not where God wants us to stay. Our sin tells us to hang out with people like us, our Savior says pursue all nations for the glory of God. (Paraphrase from Mr. Curtis Woods.)

Friends, this idea that we are colorblind is not biblical because God LOVES color.

This is important: if God loves color, we cannot pretend it doesn’t exist. Our Bibles and our cultural reality are screaming this. Jesus has been modeling it from the moment he met the woman at the well. (The first cross-cultural evangelical encounter from Acts 1) The movement from Judea to Samaria demanded the early Christians cross longstanding ethnic, religious, and cultural boundaries. And we must follow.

We have the ability and the authority to change culture, to cross those same longstanding ethnic, religious, and cultural boundaries. I’m not suggesting it will be easy. It most certainly will not be. 

But, as my friend TC said yesterday, we have a responsibility as Christians to be changers and influencers. To live in the freedom of the Third Race given to us as the body of Jesus.

“The bible does not begin with the creation of a special race of people. When the first human is introduced into the story he is simply called adam, which means ‘humankind.’ …Adam and Eve are not Hebrews or Egyptians or Canaanites. It is incorrect for the White Church to view them as White or for the Black Church to view them as Black. Their ‘race’ is not identifiable. They became the mother and father of all people.” – J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race

In Revelation 5, the Elders declared to Jesus the Lamb, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Emphasis mine.)

This conversation is holy ground. Let’s take off our shoes, shed our pride, and enter it as Learners. Wiling to be wrong, willing to be challenged, willing to forgive and seek forgiveness. The blood of Jesus has already crossed the chasm that exists between us. Crossing it ourselves is necessary if the church of Jesus Christ on Earth is to ever look like it does in Heaven.

{ Resources for the Road }

A Beautiful Design sermon series form the Village Church. Sermons 1 & 2 are particularly helpful in unpacking the imago dei.

From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race from J. Daniel Hays

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race from Beverly Tatum

The Souls of Black Folk from W.E.B. Du Bois

Revelation 5

Revelation 9

Race, The Gospel, Raising Black {+ White} Kids & The Imago Dei

Remember on Tuesday when I promised a grace-filled, gospel centered take on race and raising kids of all colors from my church-planting pastor friend TC? Well here it is! I’m so excited to be sharing his insight with all of you, I can hardly decide which quotes to share on social media! <nerd alert>

 

Before you start scrolling, I suggest you head back to read Let’s Talk About Race, and my little disclaimer about knowing nothing about it, AND especially read yesterday’s post, What White Women Raising Black Girls Should Know.

I’m not going to share anything as good as TC is so here you go! (Ugh, sorry for the weird formatting. WordPress is smarter than I am.)

How do you as a black man handle white privilege or the idea that it doesn’t exit?
People with privilege don’t necessarily understand others don’t have the same privilege. Some people are just blind to reality and this becomes their way of getting out of talking about it.

 

There is real racism. If you’re a white American you could live your whole life without meaningfully engaging African American culture. It’s not the same on the other side. African Americans can’t get good jobs, go to school, etc. without meaningfully engaging white culture. If African Americans want to live any kind of prosperous life we have to engage white culture and understand something about the way white culture works. There’s no way as an African American you can live your whole life without understanding white culture, if you want to thrive. White people can choose to sidestep African American culture their entire lives without having to engage it in the same way we must engage white culture.

 

How do we white parents need to be aware of how other people view our black boys?
African American boys are viewed as not being smart and they will have to strive to be the best to prove that they are intelligent. If you’re going to make it as an African American man, you have to strive to be the best if you’re going to make it on a large scale. And if something comes up stolen, you will get blamed more often.

 

 

When it comes to raising kids from other races, as adoptive parents we are taught some “best practices” – engage same ethnicity mentors for our kids, ensure they have diverse friends, churches, neighborhoods, etc. What advice do you have for families who do not live in a diverse area and, because of job or other reasons, can’t move into a diverse area?
If you adopt a child you need to make sacrifices to get into diverse environments. It’s healthy for your biological kids as well, they need to understand and respect other cultures.

 

How do we do this in a way that is not offensive?
Pray for a genuine heart. Don’t have a messiah complex. As Christians, we need to be praying about the race issues of our hearts. Because of the fall, because of our sin, we all have a tendency to elevate our race above another race. We have to submit all of that to the Gospel.

 

We all come to the cross equally. Ask yourself, “Is my race more important to me than my new race in Christ?” Dig into the heart issues. If you don’t agree it’s important for your kids to be around others who look like them, then ask yourself, “Why isn’t it important for all my kids to be around black people?”

 

It’s a gospel issue. If you feel called to adopt from another race, it’s important not to give them a homogenous culture. Every race is under the new race in Christ but that doesn’t mean we don’t value race, as long as we put the Gospel first.

 

Adopted kids who are black need to know there are black doctors or they will get their perception of their race from the media – where the balance is unfair, where being black is bad and everybody white is good. If they see that on the media and their neighborhood is white, they won’t see positive black role models. You need to engage in communities where minority role models is a reality.

 

There is a place where you start thinking, “I’m black and everybody I see who is of importance is white and everybody I see in trouble is black.” and you start to devalue your own race thinking, “I’m not as good.” but the balance is we’re all in need of Jesus. We’re all equal. All made in the image of God. Because of the sinfullness of man we’re all wicked but we can make much of Jesus instead of ourselves.

TCquote

What is African American culture and how do we create an appreciation for it within our kids?
Jay-Z is not African American culture. African American culture is multi-faceted. We have to be very careful with that. We lump everybody into one category and it’s not that easy. Kids need to know their ethnicity is not inferior or superior to another.

 

These best practices seem to not even begin to scratch the surface of preparing our Black boys for the real world. What would you add?
It has to be a love of your heart. A predominantly white church could hire a black pastor because your neighborhood has changed, but it has to be the heart of the whole congregation. You have to actually care and desire to understand black culture, black hair, and your kids need to see you valuing their heritage. If that black mentor is a token, that’s a problem; it has to effect your heart. 

 

What don’t we know as white parents?
You have to recognize society does not look at minorities the same. Statistics show that. Ferguson shows that. There are conversations African American parents have to have with their children that whites don’t have to have – how to interact with police – to expect the police to think you are aggressive, to only respond with “Yes sir, no sir.”

 

When your sons start dating, as parents there are some very hard conversations you’re going to have to have with your son. You don’t want to raise kids who are skeptical of white people. There are white and black people with issues. An advantage you have is you are white, so they already see you as not being suspicious of them.

 

Statistics show blacks are pulled over 31% more than whites so we need to talk about this. They’re going to be seen as doing something wrong so you have to prepare them for how to handle that. They will have to live as though they’re not going to be given the benefit of the doubt. ‘Cause there’s a good chance they won’t. You’ll have to help your sons guard against bitterness and be careful not to present ultimates. ALL white families are not bad – there are good people and bad people of every race.

 

What should we be teaching ALL of our kids about Ferguson?
Teach the Gospel and they will learn there’s a fallenness to our world. God created the world to be a certain way but it’s not the way it was created to be. We have a responsibility as Christians to be changers and influencers. Racial tension exists because the world is fallen. Because we live in a fallen world there’s racism, racial profiling, abuse of power, and hatred of races that are not our own. The Gospel speaks to that because it teaches the imago dei and the depravity of man.

 

When you look at your race as inferior to somebody else’s you lose the imago dei. If you look at your race as superior, then you lose the fallenness of all people. If you fully understand fallenness, you recognize we’re all sinners in need of grace.

 

If the gospel has affected our hearts it should allow us to weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. It should allow us to do that with other races. We should at least be willing to do that when someone’s child is killed.

 

African Americans need to see more of our white evangelical brothers and sisters standing against these issues. Weep with somebody. Feel what they feel. Practice Romans 12:9-21.

 

How old should our kids be when we begin these conversations?
Every parent needs to gauge their heart. Ask yourself, “Am I really concerned about my child or do I not want to believe racism is real or not that important?” Your kids are already dealing with race – they know what color they are. Explain, in an age appropriate way, that sin has affected our world and caused us to have hate towards one another and that includes people who have different ethnicities. It’s a sin just as disobeying your parents is a sin.

 

Any final thoughts?
We can’t paint any group of people with a broad brush. All people are in danger of being ethnocentric. Both racism and ethnocentricity get us away from the gospel. We’re all both made in the image of God and depraved.
TC
TC was born and raised in Terre Haute, IN. Growing up TC was raised Jewish, by his
Jewish mother. He attended the synagogue until around age 12. Occasionally, he would attend a baptist church with his grandmother on his father’s side. The Lord saved TC at the age of 22.TC attended St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and served as an pastoral assistant there for four years, after he answered his call to the ministry in 2005. Pastor Terry M. Clark was his pastor and mentor there.TC attended and graduated from Indiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in Criminology. There at ISU he met and married his college sweetheart Christel, who graduated from there with a bachelor’s in Social Studies Education.In 2009, TC and Christel relocated to Louisville, KY for him to pursue theological studies at Southern Seminary. While in Louisville, the Lord gave TC a vision and desire to plant a church in the city’s west-end, and a heart to reach the urban/inner-city context with the Gospel.TC completed an urban church planting internship with the Rebuild Network in partnership with NAMB, that is based out of Atlanta, under the leadership of Dhati Lewis.
From 2011- 2013, he attended Antioch Church and was coached in church planting by lead pastor, Todd Robertson.In 2013, Antioch sent TC to plant New Breed Church in Louisville’s west-end. New Breed Church officially launched January 19, 2014. TC is currently serving there as lead pastor.TC and Christel just added a new addition to their family, Trinity Camille – born this past September!
You can follow TC on Twitter and learn more about New Breed Church here.

What White Women Raising Blacks Girls Should Know

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing my friend Alaina!

I hope her words and experiences help us all dive deeper into the conversation and tension of race in America, particularly as it relates to our role as parents. I’m praying for us to enter this conversation as Learners, gaining wisdom from women of color to raise our black girls, and ALL of our children, with intention.

{If you missed yesterday’s introductory post, Let’s Talk About Race,
it would be helpful for you to start there.}

///\\\

What stereotype do you think is assigned to African-American women?
I believe black women are viewed as aggressive, argumentative, difficult, having constant attitudes and negative dispositions, intimidating, threatening, disrespectful and loud.
In having to work twice as hard as our counterparts to position ourselves to receive the same opportunities, we can also be seen as bossy and aggressive.

 

When it comes to raising kids from other races, as adoptive parents we are taught some “best practices” – engage same ethnicity mentors for our kids, ensure they have diverse friends, churches, neighborhoods, etc. What advice do you have for families who do not live in a diverse area and, because of job or other reasons, can’t move into a diverse area?
First and foremost, i believe that all people have some sort of “thoughts” and questions about other races that should be addressed before bringing home a child of another race. if not, those thoughts/bias/legitimate ignorances/etc will surface in unspoken or apparent, unintentional ways. (ex: having to use oils or creams in a black girls hair and while a white mama is trying to comb her hair she is apprehensive, grossed out, or irritated about having “grease” on her hands. an UNDERSTANDABLE feeling as that’s a situation she’s never had to experience but consider how it could make the little girl feel about her hair and who she is…. and, that’s just hair.)

 

I would suggest the parents attempt to form authentic diverse relationships prior to their babies coming home. if there is a lack of diversity in the hometown or city, make an intentional effort to take trips outside of your community to expose that child to diversity and people of color.

 

Could it be a hassle? would you rather not spend hours on the road driving… possibly, but for your child’s well being – do it as much as possible.

 

We’re also aware that extended family may not share the same thoughts and feelings about other races, i would suggest having sincere talks about plans for interracial adoption and the expectations for when that child arrives. Then, if those expectations of how that child is treated aren’t met or if he’s mistreated, defend, affirm, and protect that child. learn the cultural history of that child and teach them intentionally.

 

i can imagine all of this can be a lot, but considering the child is missing out on a piece of their culture that cannot be emulated by anyone other than others from that culture, you have to consider how hard it’s going to be for them. I’m black and don’t always quite fit in with other black friends because of things as simple as tv shows I didn’t watch that were staples in a lot of my friend’s homes. music choices, churches, food, etc. that are ingrained in a family/culture are missed and you don’t want them to feel completely out-of-place all the time.

 

These best practices seem to not even begin to scratch the surface of preparing our Black girls for the real world. What would you add?
life in america as a black woman is, i believe, a lot easier than black men. the stories i hear and see of how our black men are treated on a daily basis are horrible. black men are taught they aren’t looked at as equal and that they have to work twice as hard to get what others are getting and often have to fight for that.
it’s difficult to battle against the stereotypes. i’ve had white women say to me “you don’t act black” or “you’re not like other black people” or “you’re pretty for a black (or dark-skinned) girl” which, in their eyes, is a compliment. but what does it communicate about a standard of beauty or acceptable behavior?

 

I’ve experienced black teachers putting much more effort into me as a student than white teachers. you’re judged much more harshly on your appearance. we are taught to leave the house looking our best at all times… why? perception. i can’t leave the house in Uggs and workout clothes and be treated the same as my white friends.

 

What don’t we know as white parents?
from a broad perspective, i’d suggest walking into the situation with an open mind. i personally believe a lot of whites see the world behind rose-colored glasses and believe that racial injustices and prejudices are no more – which is understandable because it’s no longer as blatant as it used to be and they aren’t on the receiving end. if someone is making your child uncomfortable – investigate it. if you get a mama sense about a “coincidence” that continues to happen – don’t excuse it away. appearance is huge – please comb/brush hair every day. don’t fall into the traps of stereotypical black hair that you see on tv or anything like that…….. lol…. do what works for your family but also consider perception and how she WILL feel around other black children/families.

 

i went to majority white schools my entire life. i’ve worked at my mother in laws charter school for almost 5 years and this has been the first time i’ve been in an all black working/school environment. the first time ever. and, things are just different. from how parents interact with teachers to how children behave.
my best friend in high school was white. i didn’t have a lot of black friends because i didn’t quite fit in with the black girls and in some ways felt more comfortable with my white friends but didn’t quite fit in with them either. i can imagine black children adopted into white families will feel the same way. because they are loved and comfortable in their white families, they may believe that all white people will love them and they will fit in with all white groups. that isn’t true and they have to be prepared for that.>

i was called an oreo, it was said i talked white, i was white -etc. prepare them for possibly not quite being accepted by all groups but things will get better. i wish i would have gone to a historically black college. i know a lot of families attend the same universities – understand that your black child could have a very different experience at your alma mater than you did. sororities and fraternities are exactly the same. in a parents eyes, their child is their child and they want to pass down traditions, but consider how your child may be treated in your historically all white sorority. it’s different.

 

What should we be teaching ALL of our kids about Ferguson?

 

it’s hard. raising a black daughter is hard. one of the things we, as black girls, are taught is that our black men have a hard enough life outside of the home, don’t make their home life hellacious. they need support, respect, love, and an understanding companion. so when things in ferguson occur, our natural response is to defend our men, defend their/our humanity, and seek justice.
i would suggest talking about what happened in age appropriate ways, how justice and equality are being sought and how anger/feelings are being communicated. allow them to have a voice and listen to their feelings about the situation without bias. understand that in reality, many news channels (such as fox) are truly bias and not so covert in their bias.

 

which brings me to another point…

 

politics and the news.

 

again, many news and radio programs are racist. especially radio. consider what you’re listening to and ingraining into your children. Some of the things that are said, specifically, about our President and other black politicians is horrid and crude and surpasses political conversation and is specifically based in prejudices.
again, when you grow up in an all white community, there are norms that will be difficult to see – building relationships with other black and even other race families will help broaden perspectives on race relations in all areas.

 

remember that this is parenting and it’s tough. give yourself grace – not excuses! we all have our own biases and ignorances about other cultures…… do your best to learn and expose yourself and your family to other cultures in an authentic way! and, that it’s okay to say “black”!
lola
Alaina is a married woman, approaching 5 years into forever-dom in January! She teaches second grade at her family owned charter school and has struggled with expanding her family for almost four years. Alaina has detailed their journey through infertility at her blog, Unashamed Growth. After fertility treatment attempts and failed adoptions, Alaina and her husband spontaneously and surprisingly became pregnant with twins this past May! They are expecting twin girls in January!

Let’s Talk About Race

Several months ago, in the shadow of Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown, I posted this on Facebook:

FBThe overarching theme of the conversation that followed was this: we white folks have way more questions than we have answers.

So I went on hunt for answers, which turned into a mini-series on race.

Let’s stop here for a little disclaimer:

I’m a white girl from Northern Ohio, living in Kentucky, on my way to Miami. There were t w o black kids in my elementary, junior high and high school. The same two kids. While my family purposefully lives in the most diverse zip code of our city, I can count on one hand the number of friends of color I have to interview for this series. My dentist is white, my doctor is white, the girl who cuts my hair is… you guessed it, white. While I love diversity, my world doesn’t necessarily reflect it.

The point: I know very-little-to-nothing about race. {Adoptive parent friends, taking a few required classes does not make us experts; it gives us just enough “knowledge” to be dangerous. And at times offensive. Let’s be Learners in this conversation.}

I’m excited {and a tad bit nervous} about the posts I have planned for this week! Tomorrow we’ll hear from the lovely lady in my screen shot above, Alaina. Thursday is a grace-filled, gospel centered take on race and raising kids of all colors from my church-planting pastor friend T.C. and Friday I’ll be sharing a race themed Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say.

This is a conversation we as Believers must enter into. There is a multitude of biblical and cultural evidence calling, no begging, us to this. We will make mistakes. We’ll be awkward and weird and say the wrong things. We’ll offend each other. But where the ideal is lacking, grace abounds.

Will you enter into this conversation with me, as a Learner?

Curtis Woods quote

a question you’re probably thinking but are afraid to ask

Do I have what it takes to raise an African child?
I’ve been asked this before in a retrospective kinda way, as in “how do you…?”
Trillia Newbell answered this question with 
amazing grace and wisdom on The Gospel Coalition blog a while back. 
See what she has to say about it here. 
It’s an excellent read for anyone considering transracial adoption!

Have you asked yourself this question? 
What other questions have you asked yourself 
when your thoughts drift towards being a transracial family?